Your Guide to Hosting a Formal Dinner

Your Guide to Hosting a Formal Dinner

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Setting the table

You could have these or a bunch of reasons for wanting to host a formal dinner party. Read on for some tips.

You may want to host a formal dinner at home for personal reasons or sometimes you may need to host a formal do in the line of your work such as when you have to entertain a client or a foreign associate. While an informal dinner is appropriate most times, sometimes a ‘do’ is in order, where people dress formally, the table is laid with fine linen and quality dinner ware, and you play the part of a gracious host.

Here are some tips to help you host a proper, formal dinner party.

  • Send invites with RSVP in advance: Nothing says ‘formal dinner’ more than an actual invitation that specifies day, time, place and dress code. Mention the occasion if any and include address and directions to the venue. Also add a phone number and an email address or a reply card to let your guests confirm their attendance or non-attendance.
  • Prepare in advance: Do your shopping in advance and prepare what you can in advance. It’s a good idea to create a menu based on guests’ food habits (vegetarian or non-vegetarian), food allergies or general preferences. Estimate how much time you expect guests to spend having a pre-dinner drink or two and how many snacks you plan to serve with those. Time the food prep to coincide with the serving times and calculate how long each segment will take. You don’t want the evening to drag on interminably. Consider having the whole thing catered. If not, keep the menu simple and include things that you know are always likely to work. This way, fewer things will go wrong.

Formal dinner guests

  • Consider having a theme: You could ask your guests to come dressed according to a theme or your décor could reflect a theme: vintage, pirate, murder mystery, carnival, summer or winter or monsoon, casino, masquerade and so on. A theme can be a great ice breaker and conversation starter. It could be just the thing to make your party enjoyable and memorable for your guests.
  • Ensure that you have the right mix of guests: You want your guests to have a good time. Think about who has a history with whom; who is likely to feel awkward around whom and avoid mixing those people. Try to invite one or two people who are scintillating conversationalists and are able to set the ball rolling and inject some fun into the proceedings.
  • Don’t be overambitious: A formal do means attending to your guests and looking after all their needs. Inviting too many people may mean you’re not able to cope. If you’re having a sit-down dinner, consider where and how everyone will be seated. Don’t invite too many people and don’t have too many exotic things on the menu (food or drinks) unless you’re sure you can pull it off.
  • Get some help: The snacks should be circulating, the dinner should arrive hot on the table and you want that your guests should always have a glass of something in their hand. Someone to help in the kitchen and/or servers may be a good idea.

Plan your drinks in advance.

  • Pay attention to the drinks: Do you plan to serve alcohol? If so, consider finding out about your guests’ preferences and ensure that you have the fine wine, the whisky of choice or the preferred vodka in stock. If there is no alcohol being served, come up with some interesting mocktails and/or good quality fruit beverages. Fizzy drinks from a pet bottle will just not cut it at a formal dinner.
  • Use the fine china and best linen: It goes without saying that you want to pull out all the stops, so use your fine bone dinner set, the Kishco cutlery sitting in its velvet-lined box and the best drink ware. Fine linen tablecloth, color coordinated place settings and linen napkins may be in order, not just to impress your guests…if you don’t use them now, then when will you use them!
  • Pay attention to lighting: The lights should not be so bright as to appear garish and not too low that your guests cannot see clearly. Consider focus lamps in flattering yellow light rather than harsh white light. Add a few candles and you will have successfully set the mood for the evening.

Take care of the nitty-gritty.

  • Create the right atmosphere but also take care of the nitty-gritty: Add a few touches such as the right music to create the right atmosphere – classical instrumental, jazz, ghazals or old film songs are good ideas, depending upon the tastes and preferences of your guests. Real flowers look beautiful and add a touch of real class. Consider using diffusers to add light and fragrance to the areas where you are entertaining. Also make sure you look after details such as insect repellants. Ensure that each guest has comfortable seating where they will not feel too hot or too cold and make sure your seating arrangement is such that everyone is included in the conversation.

With a little planning and some creative, personal touches of your own there is no reason why that formal dinner party will not be a roaring success!

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